Using Frameworks to bring insights is a necessary way to simplifying complexity when trying to solve big problems. Leaders can convey a deeper level of thought in a simple to understand graphic by adding a dimension and using a quadrant framework.

We are living in a most uncertain time. Globally, we are experiencing a severe public health threat with unprecedented shelter in place and social distancing responsiveness. Without testing or a vaccine, we have no definitive way to determine when it will be safe for everyone to assume some sort of normal. The economic damage inflicted on us – to protect our most vulnerable demographic segments – is systemic and incalculable. In the U.S., on our current trajectory we could spike near 20 percent unemployment by late summer, the highest unemployment numbers since the great depression.

Uncertainty = Risk + Exposure

In a frenzied rush to shelter and protect the public, government and public health leaders devised an essential vs. non- essential yardstick to “flatten the curve.” In the heat of the moment, there are obvious challenges and shortcomings with a one-dimensional evaluation tool. Essential and non-essential is subjective sure, but more to the point its remedy, shelter-in-place and social distancing, is applied across both unsafe and safe situations.

Civic leaders need to contemplate safety as a second dimension. Not only will an Essential and Safety framework bring more clarity and insight, it is much more actionable. Leaders can plan across four activity zones addressing each zone individually, applying differing degrees of control and empowerment to mitigate both public health and economic risk.

Test of First-Rate Intelligence  

F. Scott Fitzgerald said “the test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still function.” The ability of government leaders to express two-dimensional thinking in a commonsense manner will provide constituents reassurance.  

Activities Chart Across Two Dimensions

Zone I: State empowers individuals to be responsible.

General healthy life activities like exercise are Zone I. Beaches, parks, shared common areas are essential for people cramped-up in tight quarters. These need to be made available with mask and social distancing practices.

Grocery warehouses, like Costco, were in Zone II in the last few weeks of March. Customers packed together hoarding water and fighting each other for toilet paper. In the last several weeks, Costco has moved its safety practices toward Zone I: limiting members in the store, placing six foot spacing markers on the floor, routing people in and out of the store, plastic protective shielding for cashiers and staff, identifying products out of stock before entering the store, all making an oft times adventurous Costco shopping experience seem much safer.    

Zone II: State is accountable and will provide permissions.

The media and public perception that hospitals are being overrun with COVID-19 cases, equipment and staff is in short supply, its essentially a pandemic war zone. In most of the 5,000 hospitals that is not the case; it is the opposite; patient census is down 30 percent to 60 percent in the majority of hospitals. Potential patients are staying away because Hospitals are viewed essentially unsafe. Elective surgeries need to be treated as Zone I and they are sitting in Zone II. Hospitals need elective surgeries to operate profitability. Public Service announcements and awareness programs are needed to reassure potential patients that most hospitals are safe and open for business. The State needs to provide permissions for elective surgeries. 

“Safety-levels will improve on-the ground with ideas and innovations in smart hygiene, protective gear, and social distancing.”

Zone III: Individuals are both responsible to their peers and accountable.

So called non-essential businesses, according to our virus protection public health edict, are quite essential to the economic crawl back from the abyss. Safety-levels will improve on-the ground with ideas and innovations in smart hygiene, protective gear and social distancing. Cultural norms have been adopted over the past 5 weeks. Safe hygiene, face masks, social distancing are norms that can be enforced by each business or organization.

Civic leaders need to empower the Zone III activities to come back into people lives. Small businesses need to get back to work serving customers, employing staff, paying healthcare premiums, and activating their vendors and suppliers.

Zone IV: The State needs to restrict these activities.

What is essential and non-essential is a moving target. However, unsafe is, well, unsafe.

Activities that require close proximity and interaction with others, may need be on the back-burner for a while. State and local government leaders are likely to control spontaneous slam dancing and mosh pits for the foreseeable future. Concerts, Sporting Events, Conventions, Graduation Ceremonies may look fundamentally different over the next 12-18 months. Sports and Concerts will likely come back before the painted faces and packed houses will.

Next in the Series

Using the Zone quadrants, we will develop safe to unsafe evaluation criteria and essential to non-essential criteria too.

The data sets can be applied across the X/Y axis of the framework. Then we can evaluate activities by scoring Costco or GMC Car Dealership or a DMV on safety and essentialism. We will begin mapping businesses, associations, and activities across the framework quadrants. These will certainly vary by geographic locations and local nuances; however, the framework is meant to be used by state and local Civic leaders, who can evaluate their local public health and economics circumstances.

Doug Dobie, CEO, Dobie Associates. Healthcare, Technology, Public Safety Consulting.;  Aurore, Strategy Frameworks and Analytics solution provider @

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